Henry David Thoreau tells us that “all good things are wild and free.”
These words are found in his lecture “Walking,” which he delivered numerous times, beginning in 1851. The connection between wildness and freedom is seen throughout Thoreau’s writing. To him, the good life required balancing the civilized and the wild, and his idea of nature informs his idea of liberty.
For Thoreau, the wild holds numerous individual and social benefits. It is a place where a person can discover and renew oneself. It is a place that allows for experimentation. It is a place that can bring radical regeneration or even a restructuring of society. Thoreau’s life in the Walden Woods, though he was somewhat isolated, was a kind of social experiment that he conducted on himself. Its goal was personal as well as social regeneration.
Thoreau’s views of wildness and freedom underlie his original and relevant libertarian philosophy. It is individualist and social. It is grounded in an understanding of nature and a desire to or figure out one’s place within it. Thoreau’s belief in acting on principles also gave him a practical attitude toward political violence and helped him make a persuasive case for peaceful revolution.
Originally given as part of a lecture in 1851, "Walking" was later published posthumously as an essay in the Atlantic Monthly in 1862. Now being a chief text in the environmental movement, Thoreau's "Walking" places man not separate from Nature and Wildness but within it and lyrically describes the ever beckoning call that draws us to explore and find ourselves lost in the beauty of the forests, rivers, and fields.
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About the Author
Massachusetts native Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) was a leading member of the American Transcendentalist movement, whose faith in nature was tested while Thoreau lived in a homemade hut at Walden Pond between 1845 and 1847. While there, Thoreau worked on the two books published in his lifetime: Walden and A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. The Maine Woods, Cape Cod, Excursions, and other works were published posthumously.
Date of Birth:July 12, 1817
Date of Death:May 6, 1862
Place of Birth:Concord, Massachusetts
Place of Death:Concord, Massachusetts
Education:Concord Academy, 1828-33); Harvard University, 1837